Edward Snowden

NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden Suggests that Obama Pardon Him

It's a good idea and the right thing to do.


Reason TV

"Saint Edward" is how a college buddy who worked as a CIA analyst disdainfully referred to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden over dinner on Sunday. He thinks Snowden should do to prison for revealing the breath-taking extent of unconstitutional domestic spying to the American public. All right, my buddy does not acknowledge that the spying was unconstitutional, but I chalk that up to professional myopia.

In any case, Snowden is charged with various violations which, were he convicted, could put him behind bars for 30 years. Nearly three years ago, I urged President Obama to pardon Snowden arguing, "If we succeed in halting the march toward the "turnkey totalitarian state" that former NSA executive William Binney warned about last year, it will be in large measure because of Snowden's revelations. Mr. President, pardon Edward Snowden now. We'll give him medals later."

In an interview in The Guardian this week, Snowden makes his case that President Obama should pardon him. Specifically Snowden argues:

"Yes, there are laws on the books that say one thing, but that is perhaps why the pardon power exists – for the exceptions, for the things that may seem unlawful in letters on a page but when we look at them morally, when we look at them ethically, when we look at the results, it seems these were necessary things, these were vital things," he said.

"I think when people look at the calculations of benefit, it is clear that in the wake of 2013 the laws of our nation changed. The [US] Congress, the courts and the president all changed their policies as a result of these disclosures. At the same time there has never been any public evidence that any individual came to harm as a result."

Tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee is meeting to discuss a classified report on Snowden and may deign to release unclassified executive summary of the report later this week. The Intelligence Committee session is happening just one day before the new Oliver Stone biopic of Snowden opens in theaters. Coincidence?

Today, according to the International Business Times, "prominent human rights groups including ACLU, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are all set to launch an official campaign on 14 September, urging President Barack Obama to pardon the whistleblower over his disclosures. The campaign is slated to be kicked off in an event in New York, where Snowden is scheduled to make a virtual appearance and speak via live stream video from Moscow."

The prospect of a pardon from President Obama is not promising, but it is even worse if either Clinton or Trump become president. On the other hand, Libertarian party presidential candidate Gary Johnson has said that he would consider pardoning Snowden.

In the meantime, I will keep trying to persuade my college buddy that while Snowden is not a saint, a good case can surely be made that he is a patriot.

As you consider your stance with regard to pardoning Snowden, please take a look at my colleague Nick Gillespie's Reason TV interview with him below:

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  1. If Snowden wanted a pardon from a Democratic president, he should have timed his leak to coincide with a Republican being in the White House.

  2. Even with a pardon he's a dead man if he returns to the states.

    1. -1 radio.

  3. Hanging out with Putin must really suck to make someone have a death wish like that.

  4. Latest Snowden tweet:

    waiting for google drone to deliver cold bottle of stoli and celeste guap lol #stonecoldfoxxx

  5. I agree -- I do not think he is a saint but rather someone who acted out of patriotism. I think his mistake was going to Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian. Greenwald is angry at the US and the Guardian is very anti-American. But in reality he probably had no choice.

    I think we (America) have an interest in getting him out of Russia. The longer he stays there the more likely Russia will be able too get information that can harm us.

    If Obama will not pardon him, why not have a Congressional committee grant him immunity and let him testify.

    1. Somehow I doubt his revelations would have seen the light of day had he gone to NBC or CNN.

      1. And, after a short time, Snowden wouldn't have been seeing the light of day either.

    2. The Russian government almost certainly has everything from him that they can get. If he took copies of his stolen material with him, they have it, along with NSA procedural and process information that he remembers and may not ave been included in the documents. If, as he said, he turned everything over to Greenwald and Poitras, they have whatever he remembered in addition to what has been published; given the volume involved, that probably is not much. After three years, his marginal intelligence value to the Russian goverment probably is near zero, and along with it the risk that he will betray more US (or other Five Eyes and ally) secrets.

  6. He embarrassed the civil libertarian we have in the White House. He's not getting a pardon.

  7. I wonder if it's ever even occurred to Obama that he could *completely* fuck over the GOP and instantly emboss his legacy in history by striking a deal to get Snowden back within our borders. If he pardoned Snowden, in 20 yrs. people would be saying, "The ACA, what's that?"

    I know there are all kinds of justifications for not doing it that probably win out in his mind. But with the ACA being the centerpiece of your legacy, it has to pop into his head every now and again.

    1. Megalomaniac narcissists do not think like that. To Obama, Snowden defied his lordship and therefore is unworthy of being allowed back into the fold. If Obama were a strategic thinker, he wouldn't have done half of the stuff he's done. He's just the lucky recipient of an extremely dumbed down American public, which in his self deluded state makes him some type of deity.

      1. To Obama, Snowden defied his lordship and therefore is unworthy of being allowed back into the fold.

        This. Snowden embarrassed the king. He must be punished.

  8. Pardon Ross Ulbricht while you're at it.

    1. I have nothing juvenile to add to this sentiment.

      1. That's compreetry understandable

    2. I think Ulbricht should get pardoned before Snowden.

      1. I disagree, they are equal but different. In Snowden's case he DID break statute. Therefore pardon him with a warning, admonishment, and thanks. Whereas Ross was illegally detained, maliciously prosecuted, and is now a political prisoner. He should be pardoned, his captors arrested, the DA drawn and quartered, and he should get a restitution package of 10 million dollars.

  9. Most open administration in history, but the two most prominent whistleblowers are hiding in foreign countries.

    1. who is the second?

      1. Guccifer 2.0? For a certain definition of whistleblower... Of course, both Greenwald and Assange are based out-of-country, but they just disseminate data.

        1. Glenn Greenwald, although resident in Brazil, remains, as far as I am aware, a US citizen, able to enter and leave the country as he desires. He has not, as far as I have seen, been charged with a crime or subjected to anything worse than possibly enhances TSA scrutiny that, while annoying, is mostly an inconvenience at worst.

  10. Obama could have told the Justice Dept to stand down on arresting and prosecuting Snowden in first place. If he had not done it by now, why would he pardon him in the near future?

  11. Snowden betrayed his government to protect his country. I'm OK with that.

  12. Snowden should not be pardoned BUT... the Obama administration should work out a deal to allow him to return to the US with a reduced sentence. I worked in national security and its important that people who do take seriously the contract they signed to protect classified materials. As a libertarian, this is logically consistent. He broke a contract. Yes, that contract was in conflict with the Constitution, so ultimately his whistleblowing was right, but its a paradox that needs a better solution than blanket pardon. It would give pause to other employees who might have far worse reasons for revealing classified information that is legitimate. He needs to pay some kind of penalty. Based on his statements, he would be willing to do so, but the government has essentially only told him it won't torture him, which of course gives him little comfort. So pardon, no. Deal for 5 or 10 years, yes.

    1. Fuck that noise. That is nothing more than the old "We were only following orders" defense.

      I don't think a signed contract is more important than revealing that the govt is breaking the fucking law.

      What about the non disclosure agreements that the Stingray company is making the LEO's sign? Which is more important? The NDA or following the 4th ammendment?

      1. Its not as simple as you make it out to be. This is nothing like a "following orders" defense. This is paying a (reduced) penalty for a broken contract, just like Daniel Ellsworth did and was willing to do. This is a deal with the devil anyone who signs up for government service must be willing to make. You'll be asked to sign away your life to protect classified documents. Want to break that contract, fine. I say follow your conscience. But there shouldn't be no penalty. Otherwise there is no such thing as protecting secrets, because someone will always find a reason why something should or should not be secret. Who gets to decide? What if Snowden had followed his conscience, but been wrong about the unconstitutionality and illegality of it? Should he also pay no penalty?

        1. I think Snowden should face the same harsh penalties Clapper faced.

          1. ^This^

            Not only did James Clapper knowingly perjure himself, he pretty specifically testified and publicly stated that he'd further violate the Constitution and/or his oath office.

            I understand that Snowden broke the law and/or a contract. Regardless, Clapper has done the same multiple times over and to much greater or worse effect. If you're going to take one to task, you have to take the other.

            1. Technically Snowden broke no law of this land. If a statute is unconstitutional it isnt a law.
              full stop
              his contract to not disclose would have forced him to violate the constitution...NULL AND VOID

              1. Not true. A law can be unconstitutional. There is a process for removing that law.

                1. To be a prick...A statute can be unconstitutional.

          2. Reasonable point. I think Clapper should face a penalty too. False dichotomy. Not only that, but a first year intel community intern would know better how to have answered that question without perjuring himself. He should have been fired for idiocy.

          3. "I think Snowden should face the same harsh penalties Clapper faced."
            sounds fair to me

        2. Are you seriously arguing that, at this point in time-- leaving aside anything that might happen in the future-- Edward Snowden has paid no penalty for revealing classified information?

          1. Nope. Not arguing that at all. Please show me where I said that.

            Let me spell it out: The intelligence community will go apeshit if Snowden is pardoned. Any president doing so loses pretty much all of its respect. That is hundreds of thousands of people the president relies on to provide him with information he needs to make decisions and not look stupid. A pardon will never happen. Even Johnson wouldn't do it. He would get into office and learn how much a mutiny he would create and not do it. The only viable solution is for Snowden to serve a short term in jail. The USIC will still be pissed, but it would be a far better concession. And I think its the right thing to do.

            1. So you think a NDA supersedes the constitution? Didn't Snowden take an oath to defend the constitution or don't contractors have to?

              1. I think both are contracts. Snowden did take an oath to defend the consitution. He also swore to protect classified information. Its not always easy to determine when those two are in conflict. That is why we have judges and a court system and systems at the agency for whistleblowers, etc. He protected the constitution in my opinion but he violated his contract. So unless a judge rules that contract to be unlawful, Snowden violated the law. That doesn't make him wrong to do what he did. What you're advocating (I assume) is anarchy where each individual can decide for him or herself which laws to follow and avoid any consequences for that choice absent a system to determine that. Perhaps I should qualify... he shouldn't necessarily go to jail, but he should face trial.

                1. Ahh but this is where you lack understanding. ONLY INDIVIDUALS can be held responsible so therefore ONLY INDIVIDUALS can have rights. Snowden, or any individual, is the SOLE arbiter of what is right and wrong in their eyes. As it should be. Therefore your point about a judge and jury is valid in the sense that if they diagree with you then you are fubar. We also have a president, who should he disagree with a judge and or jury can set aside their opinions. So you see, Snowden absolutely should be pardoned. I will agree a "trial" would make it official. But I would like to see it go this way: Your honor, my client followed the law. Defense rests. Judge: You are correct, case closed. Now, to issue subpoenas for all these NSA people.

                2. You can't have a valid contract to violate a third party's rights.

                  1. Correct, thank you. The contract he signed violated a third (330 million) party's rights.

            2. Maybe the problem is with the intelligence community?

              If they think that they are above the constitution and will mutiny if a pardon is issued to someone who revealed their shenanigans, maybe they should be treated like the air traffic controllers were treated by Reagan?

              Fuck the intelligence community right in the neck if they think that they and their culture are above the rule of law and the constitution.

              1. Careful, those same intelligence people failed to prevent 9/11, decided Iraq was about to unleash a ton of WMD's on the West, believed we would be welcomed with flowers by the Iraqi people, and didn't blink when they not only violated the Constitution but immediately closed ranks to protect their own when they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

                Why would you want to screw over such competent and patriotic people.

      2. The FBI, not the Stingray manufacturer, requires nondisclosure agreements from other law enforcement agencies. Whether the use of the device is unconstitutional is a matter for courts, not commentators, to decide, and will depend on the particular circumstances and details of its use. In all likelihood, its use, like wiretaps, sometimes will be constitutional and lawful and other times either unlawful, unconstitutional, or both.

    2. I don't see how a subservient contract can supersede the superior constitution. The law is the law and you are advocating the breaking of the law. His superiors violated the law...egregiously. Now, it isn't his role to punish them but it is the LAW that he report them to the American people. Which he did.

      If a Field Major tells you to kill an innocent American that you know is innocent then it is your honor bound duty to disobey, with deadly force if needed. In this case, an administration ordered a person, who has taken the highest oath in the country, to disobey that oath. In my mind, they are fortunate that a leak is all they experienced.

      1. It doesn't. But there are processes for determining that and he violated them. If you defy orders to kill an innocent your Major ordered you to do, you may still face a court martial. But hopefully you would be found not guilty.

        1. But at a fundamental point you are incorrect. The ultimate process for determining that is the individual. Juries and judges are for the rest of the government, not for determining if something is right or wrong. Only for determining if the government wants to accept your interpretation. And we have multiple layers, appeals, SCOTUS, and wait...PRESIDENTIAL PARDONS.

        2. I am disinclined to trust the judgement of law and morality to know and demonstrated traitors. Snowden would have been stupid to "use the proper channels" more than he already did.

          Example: I see the kings son is breaking the kings law by stealing a cow. I go to the king and say your son stole a cow. The king beheads me. The end.

          no thanks

        3. Oh you mean like Thomas Drake? or Maybe Russel Tice? Maybe like William Binney? Perhaps you mean like John Kiraikou?

          Or maybe they'd just bury his findings legally like they did with Siblel Edmonds.

          All of those folks went through proper channels and all they got for their time and trouble was stonewalling and being prosecuted as criminals.

  13. What we have going on here is the death of the rule of law and the end of the legitimacy of the US government as a whole. It will only take Hillary a year or two to finish this off and we will officially enter the banana republic state. Basically a corrupt oligarchy ruling by fiat. Congress is done, they will serve no further purpose, the judicial will just be a rubber stamp for the executive. Good night, USA, it was fun.

  14. Is Snowden still even a thing?
    The news cycle has moved on the more important issues of baskets, and frogs, and walls.
    The furor has gone out of our government spying on us and reading our e-mails.
    It's the Russians we should all be pissed off at now for reading politicians e-mails

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  16. Not to nit-pick, but doesn't one have to be found guilty before one can be pardoned? Last I heard, Snowden is still innocent.
    If any charges were filed, I don't recall what they were--politicians were throwing around ridiculous charges, unbacked by reason. Treason, of course, is defined in the Constitution, and doesn't appear applicable to this case.

    I imagine there are agreements Snowden signed and violated, but whether they're enforceable depends on whether enforcers follow the 1st Amendment and the contract was with government. If the contract required Snowden to do anything illegal, it is not enforceable.

    At any rate, Johnson will appoint an Attorney General or whomever, who can pursue due process, and Snowden's best bet is to be tried for every charge under the sun, and found not-guilty so that future officials will find it harder to double-jeopardy him by creating other charges. A pardon for something he hasn't done is not worth very much, either.

  17. I do not agree that Edward Snowden merits a pardon, especially in the absence of a trial to determine whether and to what degree his particular actions violated specific laws as specified in an indictment far more detailed and specific than the one issued in haste while he still was in Hong Kong. While it has been customary to designate him a "whistleblower," it is not justified, as he failed to opt for either the whistleblower protections available to contractor employees or the fairly obvious alternative of approaching a sympathetic legislator such as Senator Wyden or Congressman Amash with his concerns.

    Besides making available to the press details of domestic data collection and communication surveillance to fill out what most people who had been paying attention to such matters knew fairly clearly by 2006 or 2007, Snowden also made available substantial information about highly classified foreign intelligence collection and surveillance programs and activities that by design, although not always in their implementation details and execution, are constitutional and legal. He also made available information about foreign signals intelligence activities of four close allies and several other nations with which cooperation, although not so close, was extensive. He seems to have copied this material while operating well outside the scope of his contract with his employers, Dell and Booz Allen, their contracts with the NSA, and the law.

    1. If the government is doing something unconstitutional and/or unethical, then the People should know about it. Something being legal doesn't make it ethical. As for "whistleblower protections", the only proper channel is the general public; those other channels exist solely to sweep everything under the rug and destroy potential whistleblowers, as we've seen happen to countless other people. Snowden had a duty to inform the American people of the government's unconstitutional and unethical activities, and any contract, law, or rule that stood in his way was invalid.

      Only by mindlessly appealing to authority figures and laws can you reach the conclusion that what Snowden did was bad, but at that point you're just disregarding ethics entirely.

  18. (Cont)
    Edward Snowden made the copies available to journalists well known for antipathy to the US government who could be expected to, and did, report them to maximize outrage and the damage to plainly legal NSA activities, minimize the existing legal constraints and the difficulty of ensuring that they never were violated, and ignore a great deal of relevant technical and historical context. (The relevant technical context that rarely, if ever, is mentioned includes, for example, the fairly obvious fact that the capability to conduct targeted surveillance on the Internet requires the ability, of which they made much, to filter and make temporary copies of, much or all of the data on some or a lot of the Internet backbone.) The chosen recipients of the illegal copies of NSA internal documents also could be counted on for silence about foreign and domestic signals intelligence activities of governments other than those mentioned in the stolen documents, and the fact that they often (for instance in Germany and France) have less stringent legal controls than the US.

    Much of this, of course, particularly the choice of recipients of the stolen data, is not illegal and probably should not even be presented before a jury. However, it is a stretch to argue that Mr. Snowden should be given a get out of jail card in advance of a trial, given the fairly evident fact that he broke laws that tens or hundreds of thousands of government and federal contractor employees have not.

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